The age of comic book movies isn’t ending anytime soon, and it’s easy to see why people are getting sick of it. What was once an exciting time to see our favorite superheroes updated for the big screen has sadly turned into a wheezing bloat of cinematic universes and middling reboots. There are a lot of reasons why the glut of Marvel and DC movies have shifted from being good to bad, whether it be transitioning Hollywood’s focus from promoting original ideas to rehashing pre-established IPs or giving regressive and sometimes hostile fanboys too much power in a movie’s development process. But there are two specific results of the comic book movie era that are the most annoying: indifference and desperation, both blatantly on display in Morbius.
Sony’s latest attempt to spin more gold from the already-thin web of the Spider-Man universe, Morbius gives the titular vampiric villain an origin story that’s somehow more bland and yet less ridiculous than the already-banal Venom. Biochemist Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has dealt with a debilitating blood disease all his life and waves off any form of praise or connection to keep focused on finding a cure. His most promising method is combining DNA from vampire bats with human DNA, creating a serum that he injects into himself as the last test of its effectiveness. The good news is that, with the serum, he can walk without crutches, has advanced hearing skills, and shows unparalleled agility and strength. The bad news is that he needs to drink human blood to stay sane or turn into a fanged, flying monster with a thirst for carnage (no, not that Carnage). He now has to find a cure for his failed cure while protecting his colleague (Adria Arjona), his mentor (Jared Harris), and childhood friend (Matt Smith), who takes a special interest in Morbius’s work.
There have been plenty of bad comic book movies before, but Morbius shows a particularly offensive kind of laziness from Sony and the filmmakers it put in charge of making it. The closest comparison is that of the 2017 theatrical cut of Justice League, a movie robbed of nearly all elements of creativity and energy in favor of corporately mandated movie beats and franchise references strategically placed in an order that’ll keep audiences quiet for 104 minutes while their ticket money is funneled into more sequels and spinoffs. Say what you will about Justice League, but at least it used to have someone’s vision in its heart.
Director Daniel Espinosa (Life, Safe House) seems more like a director for hire as he brings little to no visual flare to Morbius and its gloomy aesthetic. Our big reveal of Morbius in monster form is just a boring camera pan up to him hanging on the ceiling with no build-up or excitement, while all of his beastly leaps onto people to drink their blood are either unseen or edited down to keep the movie PG-13 (because blood-sucking murder can be for families, too). It’s hard to put all the blame on Espinosa though, as the script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Power Rangers, Gods of Egypt) lift the movie’s plot points and imagery from Batman Begins and The Incredible Hulk without the character depth of the former or the goofy action of the latter. And that’s on top of dialogue so rehashed and underdeveloped, you’d think it wasn’t so much written as it was composed by an algorithm programmed to write Hollywood screenplays.
Another commonality shared between Morbius and Justice League is some blatant post-production editing. Warner Bros. and likely Sony knew their audiences would get annoyed with a half-baked movie that’s stretched past two hours, so they told their editing team to cut the films down to less than 120 minutes. And again, say what you will about Justice League (most of it is deserved, believe me), but at least it had enough material to clear the two-hour mark. At 104 minutes, Morbius very clearly had scenes cut from its theatrical run that would’ve added some much-needed dimension (or just basic explanations) to its story and characters.
The audience doesn’t know how Morbius’s friend came into extraordinary wealth as he grew up and thereby funded the biochemist’s work, nor are there any scenes that show Morbius and his colleague having prior chemistry to warrant their obligatory sexy moment in the third act. There aren’t even any scenes that show how Morbius developed a kind-hearted nature when he became an adult or him struggling to control his powers in a meaningful way.
The character of Morbius is obviously meant to be a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde duality tale, one man struggling to fight the demon trying to burst out of him. The movie Morbius has no time to show that struggle in any emotionally stirring way, because it’s got two obligatory end-credits scenes to get to because Sony is making that Sinister Six movie, dammit. Who cares if Adrian Toomes (poor Michael Keaton) is awkwardly bungled into the Morbius universe with a new Vulture suit for no good reason and talking about Spider-Man to a character who seemingly has never heard of Spider-Man before in a universe that has shown no sign of Spider-Man ever existing? Look, it’s Vulture! And Morbius! In a movie! Give us your money.
It’s very easy to make fun of Jared Leto as a personality and, occasionally, as an actor. He makes choices for the characters he plays; some of them are good, and some of them are bad. In Morbius, Leto only made one choice in front of the camera and that’s to brood. Leto left whatever charisma he has as an actor at home every day he came to set and walks into every scene of Morbius doing nothing more than pulling off the look of Gucci Jesus in some pale facial makeup. His voice never rises above the most somber octaves and his energy is created entirely by the half-decent special effects slathered on his face. At least with his spastic take on the Joker in Suicide Squad, he thrust his whole body into every movement he made.
Adria Arjona is here to be nothing more than a damsel in distress, while the most you can say about Jared Harris is that at least he still looks as good in a suit as he did playing Lane Pryce. If there is one lone bright spot in this dirge, it’s Matt Smith. The former Doctor Who brings a solid amount of deliciously evil suited energy later in the movie that you wish he and Leto would switch roles so he can embrace the theatricality of playing a monster vampire. He goes from being a smooth operator in a nightclub to a prowling monster minutes later; who wouldn’t want to see American Psycho remade in the vein of Bram Stoker’s Dracula?
But that type of wild, stylistic energy would require time and care to produce, two things this movie doesn’t have. Simply put, Morbius is one of the laziest, shallowest, most pathetic attempts at a movie blockbuster in some time. It was not made to inspire the imagination of an audience or bring the fantasies of comic book fans to life, but to fill a gap Sony needs filling in order to make more money off of existing properties for years to come. There have been moments when Warner Bros. and even Marvel Studios have had projects that were statistically calculated rather than carefully crafted, but Sony has been a repeat offender. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tried to shove the Sinister Six into the final 30 minutes of its runtime while the Venom movies have cruised by on their mere existence. Even outside of the Marvel universe, Sony is 0 for 2 in trying to make Ghostbusters relevant again. If Morbius is a sign of things to come, maybe that Dr. Strange memory spell in Spider-Man: No Way Home can be cast on the rest of Sony’s executives, so they can forget this plan and move on to something else.
Morbius is now playing in movie theaters. Watch the trailer here.